Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, is taken to Egypt where he is sold to Potiphar as a household slave. Potiphar makes Joseph the head of his household, but Potiphar's wife, angered when Joseph resists her attempts to seduce him, accuses him falsely of attempting to rape her. Potiphar casts Joseph into prison, where he comes to the notice of Pharaoh through his ability to interpret the dreams of other prisoners.
According to the Biblical scholarship, the story of Potiphar and his wife derives from the Yahwist source, and stands in the same place that the stories of the butler and the baker and Pharaoh's dreams stand in the Elohist text. By casting Joseph as a victim of seduction and of false witness, the text suits the Yahwist's purpose of denigrating Joseph, the Yahwist being a southern writer and Joseph a northern hero.
The Elohist's Potiphar (given as Potipherah) is a priest of On, whose daughter Joseph marries.
Potiphar's wife is not named in either the Yahwist or Elohist stories. The mediaeval Sefer HaYashar, a commentary on the Torah, gives it as Zuleika, as does the Persian poem called Yusuf and Zulaikha (from Jami's Haft Awrang ("Seven thrones")). For more on the nameless in the Holy Bible, please see List of names for the Biblical nameless.
There is little mention in Egyptian history or archaeology of this person, making it difficult to place him or Joseph accurately to a particular pharaoh or time period.
According to the documentary hypothesis, the story of Potiphar's wife derives from the Jahwist source, and stands in the same place that the stories of the butler and the baker and Pharaoh's dreams stand in the Elohist text. Casting Joseph as a victim of seduction, and of false witness, the text suits the Jahwist's purpose of denigrating Joseph, the Jahwist being a southern writer, and Joseph being a northern hero. This may also be the reason for the description of Potiphar as a eunuch (saris), with a sexually dissatisfied wife. It has been argued that the term saris may also refer to any royal official (particularly a military official). However, it was certainly possible for a eunuch to have a wife.
The Elohist tradition still makes mention of a man named Potiphar (corrupted as Potipherah), but in that tradition, Potiphar is simply a priest of On, whose daughter Joseph marries. It is possible that the northern view of Potiphar, the view the Elohist records, is where the Jahwist derived the name and motif of the sexual connection with Joseph.
Some others have speculated that the Egyptian " p3 di p3 r` " simply indicates a native Egyptian and not a personal name at all, since the personal name Potiphar is not present in Egyptian records until well into the New Kingdom, whereas the Joseph story occurs in the Middle Kingdom, according to those scholars. However, other evidence points to the Joseph story happening in the New Kingdom, with one candidate for Joseph as Yuya. Also, Manetho recorded a vizier's, possibly Yuya's, name as "Osarseph", meaning vizier Seph. Potiphar may have been just a given name by the biblical author(s) and/or editor(s). The name Potiphar may also derive from the Egyptian words "p3 ty pr r'" meaning "one with the knowledge of the temple of Ra", or "he who has the knowledge of the temple of Ra", support for those who support the Yuya-Joseph theory, in accordance with the vizier Rekhmire's name, a candidate for Potiphar, meaning "scholar of Ra" or "he who has learned from Ra".